2004 will be short on congressional accomplishments, thanks to the election year, according to Goodyear's chief government relations official.
``I am definitely a political junkie, and this election is the Oscars of politics,'' said Isabel Jasinowski, corporate vice president-government relations for Goodyear, at the 20th annual Clemson University Tire Industry Conference, held March 10-12 at Hilton Head.
The past year has not been particularly good to President Bush, and his current poll numbers reflect that, according to Ms. Jasinowski.
``With jobs, WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) and an estimated deficit of $1.9 trillion over 10 years, Bush has some credibility problems,'' she said.
Nevertheless, she expects him to win a second term.
``It's still eight months out from the election, and they (the poll numbers) are a wake-up call to the administration,'' she said.
As for Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., Ms. Jasinowski said, ``His war experience is a plus, but anybody who has spent 20 years as a senator has a long voting record, and on Iraq he voted three ways.''
In any case, the large number of independent voters will be the swing factor, she said. ``Whoever wins will have to pick up the independents and hope (Ralph) Nader doesn't take too big a slice.''
For the Democrats, she added, the election-year topic ``will be jobs, jobs and jobs again. A lot of job losses in manufacturing have to do with structural issues, but it's hard to explain that in a sound bite.''
As for Congress, how the South votes will determine whether the Republicans can hold on to the Senate, according to Ms. Jasinowski. ``There are five open seats, all in the South.'' But congressional redistricting in Texas virtually will ensure that the GOP will continue as the majority party in the House, she said.
The tire industry can expect a scaled-back version of the highway reauthorization bill to pass this year, Ms. Jasinowski said, but little else is likely to be accomplished in the way of legislation. She quoted Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa.: ``You almost cannot low-ball expectations enough for this session.''
One piece of legislation that pleased the industry this session was the 700-page Medicare Prescription Drug & Modernization Act. ``Health care costs are a huge issue for any employer,'' Ms. Jasinowski said. ``The big surprise was that it got through. It's an important first step but far from a final answer.''
In the legal reform field, the best hope this session is a bill setting up a trust fund for asbestos-related claims and protocols for the payment of those claims.
``A lot of general manufacturers have got caught up in this issue,'' Ms. Jasinowski said, adding that any manufacturer that ever used asbestos anywhere for any reason is subject to litigation.
The way the current system operates, she added, ``people with true health issues have to wait in line with people who aren't really sick.'' The bill before the Senate would change this, she said, but trial lawyers, unions and insurers are blocking it. ``The unions want a bigger trust fund,'' she said.
There is no national scrap tire legislation on the horizon, she said, although New York's scrap tire law has become a major target of reform efforts within the tire industry.
``The state collects $2.50 per tire through tire dealers but only allows the dealers to keep 25 percent of that,'' she said.
``They can't dispose of the tires for that amount, so a lot of tires end up getting dumped illegally.''
Among other issues, trade will be important this year, particularly the issue of trade with China, Ms. Jasinowski said.
``Chinese currency is pegged to the dollar, which makes Chinese goods very, very cheap,'' she said.
Also, the Chinese government has been laggardly with its repeated promises to lower tariff and licensing barriers to U.S. business, a condition of the U.S. supporting China's membership in the World Trade Organization.
``China was supposed to drop its licensing requirements in the tire industry six months ago,'' she said. ``We will have to use the bully pulpit to keep the pressure on China.''